Why We Must Pay Attention to the Embodied Mind

emotional self care Sep 22, 2020

The foundation module of WOW Self Care School is called Emotional Self Care. The module is a beginners  introduction to behavioural medicine or health psychology.

For example studies have found that social isolation tends to increase levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, to raise blood pressure, and to weaken the immune system, with the result that most people who live alone and lack a robust social network produce a weaker antibody response to flu vaccines.

At the other end of the spectrum, being socially engaged is associated with a lower risk of developing coronary artery disease, with catching fewer colds and other infections, and with a longer life. Although both premises suggested above are not universally true, the evidence points to this.

Behavioural medicine has also shown that depression raises the risk of dying from coronary artery disease. What is found over and over again is that - on average - the emotional state itself predicts the health problems.

Given that emotions have physiological consequences, it follows that Emotional Style does too. The patterns of brain activity that underlie particular dimensions of Emotional Style are associated with physiological systems that play a role in health and illness. What is in your brain necessarily influences what is in the body. Moreover, the communication is bidirectional, so what is in the body influences what is in the brain.

These statements should not be terribly surprising. After all, emotions clearly affect the body, as anyone who has been nauseated by extreme stress, felt her energy level soar in response to intense happiness, or been rendered insomniac by a profound sadness can attest. 

The mind is 'embodied' in the sense that it exists within the body - specifically, the the three pounds of tofu like tissue we call the brain - and engages in bidirectional communication with it, so that the state of the mind influences the body, and the state of body influences the mind.

Emotions, too, are embodied, and given their power to affect physiology outside the skull they are arguably the most embodied form or mental activity.

The brain circuits that underlie Emotional Styles may be as important to a health-care provider, in terms of assessing health risks, as knowing whether the patient smokes for example, and that altering your Emotional Styles can be beneficial to physiological systems and thus overall health.

Through traffic in the other direction, from body to brain, changes in our patterns of movement can affect how our mind processes emotional information. It suggests that the body can become an ally in transforming emotion, meaning practices that emphasize the body, such as hatha yoga or deep breathing, have the potential to modulate emotion. This research is barely off the ground, but there are tantalising hints about how this body-to-brain connection might work.

Source and Credit: The Emotional Life of Your Brain - Richard J. Davidson, PHD and Sharon Begley 2012

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